From the October, 1998 PC ALAMODE Magazine:
Searching for a Person on the Internet
 
by Bob Harris

Looking for that old school buddy or friend? Why not try the Internet? The number of search sites is awesome! In this article, I will separate them into two categories: free and pay. 

First the free.

Let's start with the "people search" Web pages. The largest sites have millions of names. Most are bought and updated regularly from the telephone companies. It is their list of listed telephone numbers and addresses. In addition, the different sites collect names, addresses and e-mail addresses from many other sources including the information and warranty return cards people fill out.

 Some addresses are: bigfoot, whowhere, 555-1212, four11, infoseek, infospace, iaf, switchboard, isleuth, and anywho. Another is: http://www.excite.com/Reference/people.html. There are many more but this will get you started.

 Why look at more than one? Although they all may have millions of names in common, each has some names that the others do not. So, if you want to cover all bases, you have to use as many as possible until you find your subject. While you are looking, check for an e-mail address as well as a phone number and street address. If you get too many hits for your name, look for the Advanced Search instructions that most sites have.

 Outlook Express users can click on "Edit" then "Find People" and choose from some of the above addresses already included in Outlook Express.

 If you can't find your person in the phone lists (they may have an unlisted number) but you know the city they may be living in, try the Tax Assessor records. These are public records that you can look up on the World Wide Web. They list all people who own business and private property in a county or city. You can get an address if you know the name or a name if you know an address. In addition, you will get the tax appraisal value of the property, the size, number and kind of rooms and sometimes, as here in Bexar County, a diagram of the house. For a list of locations look at: http://recenter.tamu.edu/links.

 There are three kinds of folks you can look for: those who want to be found and put their names on the net, those who don't care, and those who don't want to be found. The latter are the ones who have unlisted numbers and addresses. If the person you are looking for wants to be found, try looking at a reunion or alumni site. Some people have started web pages that list high school classes and invite graduates to put their name and address there so others in the same class can find them. See: http://www.nowandthen.com/reunion, http://www.reunions.com and there are many, many more. Do a search in HotBot or one of the other search engines on the words "reunion" or "classmates" or "graduates" etc. 

There is always a chance the person you are searching for may have had an article published on the web. They could have just been mentioned in an article or they could have their own web site. There are computer programs called "search engines" or "spiders" that spend all day searching the web and indexing every word on every page they find. They index 2 million pages every day. These sites have over 50 million pages in their index with every word on every page indexed! They have addresses like http://www.lycos.com, http://www.HotBot.com, http://www.Excite.com, http://www.altavista.digital.com, etc.

 Go to one and type in the name you are searching. Be sure to put quotation marks around the name, for example: "Sam McClatchey". If you don't you will get a list of every page that has the name Sam along with every page that has the name McClatchey --- hundreds of thousands! 

(Don't use Yahoo for this. It is a great subject index like the table of contents in the front of a book but only has about 1 million indexed sites. The other search engines mentioned above are word indexes like an index at the back of a book)

 Unless you are sure the person you are searching for is living, there is always a chance they have died. To rule out that case look at the list of Social Security Death Records. This is a list of everyone who: 1. had a social security number, 2. is dead, and 3. had a death benefit paid by the U.S. Government. For recent deaths it is almost a complete listing. For deaths before the 1980s it does not have a lot of folks and there are very few listed who died before 1970. This is because, when social security started in the 1930s, it was mainly for the factory workers. Large groups of people were not included such as government employees, business owners, professionals (physicians and dentists), farmers, etc. Although some of these folks got a social security number before they died, they were not paid benefits and would not be listed.

 A couple of sites publish the list on the Web. You might try the one at: http://www.ancestry.com/ancestry/search.asp. It is put up by a commercial genealogy site but it is one of the "free" searches you can make at the site.

 While we are on the subject of genealogy sites, that is another place you can look. Even if your subject does not want to be found, a relative may have put up his own genealogy and included your subject. The odds are long here though. There are hundreds of millions of names listed at the genealogy sites and less than one percent are living folks. But, there is always a chance you might get lucky. Your index search may have turned up a few genealogy sites. Try the site at: http://www.familytreemaker.com/ifftop.html to start. For a short list of some other sites see: http://harris.home.texas.net/gen/mar98.html.

 For U.S. government and military employees, start at the Yahoo page http://www.yahoo.com/government. Click on "U.S. Government" and follow the links to the military service and base that you are interested in. Some military base sites have locator search engines that will give you the work address and phone for the employees on the base, military and civilian. If you cannot find a locator, but can do a search, search for the person's name. You may find them listed on a document they have published or on a list of orders approving officials. Similar sites exist for county, state and local governments.

 If you can't find your subject's name on the web but know he is in the Air Force for example, go to http://www.afpc.af.mil and click on "AF Locator Information" to get instructions on who to contact to locate him.

 Your subject might belong to a professional association for his occupation. For example, go to the American Medical Association (AMA) at http://www.ama-assn.org and click on "Doctor Finder" then "Search by name or medical specialty". You have to go through a number of screens but you eventually get to the search screen. Over 650,000 physicians are listed, including many who are not members of the AMA. There are similar sites for other specialties from librarians to teachers.

 Then there is a whole other category of missing children. Usually these are folks who don't want to be found or someone doesn't want them to be found. See an index of these sites at http://www.cyndislist.com/adoption.htm

Another free thing you can do, but not on the Web, is to post a message to a newsgroup; try alt.missing-adults, alt.missing-kids, alt.binaries.missing-adults or alt.adoption (for adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents). 

There are also address lists that exchange messages about missing people. There are many, many more places to look. Try http://www.cyndislist.com/finding.htm and http://www.cyndislist.com/adoption.htm for lists of additional sites. 

Pay sites.

The best, and least expensive pay site to search public records is http://www.publicdata.com. They have put up lists of Texas driver licenses and voting registrations. They also have certain criminal records, auto tag lists, etc. The cost is $25 for a year's access that includes 250 searches, making your cost 10¢ a search. This is a great resource for a reunion committee that is trying to locate graduates in Texas. Although it is limited to Texas as I write this article in September 1998, they have plans to add other states. Check their web address for the latest at: http://www.publicdata.com

 At PublicData.Com you can search by name and see the driver's license that gives the address of your subject. To make certain that is the person you are looking for you can also check the voter's registrations to see where they were living when they registered.

 When you sign up to use PublicData with a credit card online, they e-mail you your password in about 2 minutes and you are ready to start your search.

 Much more pricey are the commercial sites at: http://www.primenet.com/~missy/missing/index.html and http://www.ameri.com/sherlock/sherlock.htm. I suspect that some or most of their sources are free if you had the time and knowledge to find them.

 Many private investigators have sites on the web and will be happy to do a search for you. Their prices range from $50 - $80 per hour. They can usually locate someone for under $500. See http://jwki.home.texas.net for an example site or go to http://www.tali.org/mbrsopen.htm and click on the city listings for the city of your choice.

 There are commercial sites that will locate veterans and military too. As an example see http://www.militaryusa.com

Finally, you can try some pay genealogy sites with the same caveats that I mentioned in the free genealogy section above. It is really like finding a needle in a haystack. My favorite is the GenServ site at http://www.genserv.com. The owner Cliff Manis is a San Antonioan. He has over 13 million names. The cost is only $12 a year for searches (limited to 12 searches an hour). But since this is a site for genealogists, Cliff also requires that you send him a file of your genealogy (called a GEnealogical Data COMmunications (GEDCOM) file - made automatically by most genealogy programs) before you can search for names on his site.

 Coming someday in the near future county courthouses will be on the Internet with all their public records. These include voter registration, deed, tax, civil and criminal, probate and assumed names. Already you can use computers at the courthouse to find and view a record.

 Bob Harris is a former licensed Private Investigator (PI) who currently does search consulting for PI's in the San Antonio area. He is leader of the Internet Explorer and Genealogy SIGs.